Wellington Zoners OK Revisions To Application Fee Structure

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 9 focused on updating the village’s fees and regulations.

The first three items — developing a flat fee system for applications, creating a fee schedule for reviewing applications and creating a building department permit fee schedule — were presented together.

Staff initiated the requests to revise the fee schedules for the development applications and building department, providing a flat rate escrow fee system for all development applications, Project Manager Kelly Ferraiolo said.

The Planning, Zoning and Building Fee Schedules are a traditional flat rate fee system that was established in 2001. In 2008, a cost recovery system — where first the village collects a deposit, and then staff keeps track of the time, fees and costs, and bills the applicant for the actual cost of the project — was adopted for the administrative review and processing of development approvals. In 2009, a traditional flat rate fee system was established for the building department.

However, none of the fees have been updated since they were established.

It has been difficult collecting fees, especially when applications often cost double or triple the initial deposit. The final cost is unknown at the beginning, and the process is time-consuming, Ferraiolo said.

“Implementing a flat rate fee system would be much more efficient and reliable,” she said. “The system will allow staff members to better utilize their time. Applicants will also know the cost of the application at the time of submittal.”

Staff analyzed the cost of petitions, professional fees and advertising costs for petitions since 2014. Consultants have contacted the village to support the proposal.

Wellington’s building department is financed by an enterprise fund, and its fees are among the lowest in the county.

“The amendments to the planning and zoning fees don’t really represent any increase in fees,” Planning, Zoning and Building Director Bob Basehart said. “They require a larger amount up front, but it eliminates the whole process of chasing additional money if accounts run too low. It tremendously reduces our accounting costs and the spending of a lot of staff time that could be used doing planning work.”

While some applications are more work-intensive than others, he explained, for those that are more complicated, the costs are higher; for those that are less complicated, the costs are less. Overall, the costs average out.

“It’s a much better system. A lot of regular applicants, we’ve talked to them about the new schedule. We’ve received a number of letters of support for what we’re doing here,” he said.

According to the village charter, Basehart said, residents shouldn’t be paying for development. However, building fees haven’t been amended since 2009, yet costs have increased. The new fee schedule will balance the costs, bringing fees to a break-even level. For substantial changes, additional fees would be due.

Vice Chair Kenneth Kopp asked whether the proposed model is used in other municipalities.

“We’re probably one of the last municipalities utilizing a cost recovery system,” Project Manager Cory Lyn Cramer said. “Most have a flat rate.”

Board Member Thomas Bueno saw merit in the system, noting that it would open more time for staff to do what it needs to, rather than chasing fees.

“This will be so much more efficient, and basically save us time, is the way I understand it,” Chair Elizabeth Mariaca said.

The items were all approved unanimously.

The next two items included an amendment to Wellington’s land use regulations, with a zoning text amendment ordinance and a development review manual resolution.

The request, Cramer said, initiates the first stage of the land development regulations rewrite.

Currently, the code is 80 pages long, and the proposed reduction makes the code 12 pages. With legal changes, it is approximately 13 or 14 pages, she added.

Article 5 has an addition of a development review manager and removes the development review committee to ensure compliance with Florida regulations, Cramer said.

“The general objective here is to make the process more streamlined, easier to work with, quicker and more transparent,” Basehart said. “I think the amendment, as proposed, does all that.”

Both items passed unanimously.